Inquest into North Caribou Lake woman's death brings answers, hope for change, councillor says

The inquest into the 2012 death of a North Caribou Lake First Nation woman — and its findings and recommendations — have brought some answers and hope, according to a councillor for the community.

Ina Matawapit died in 2012 after she was sent away from community nursing station, inquest heard

Ina Matawapit (centre) is pictured here with her parents. The 37-year-old woman from North Caribou Lake First Nation died in 2012. (Supplied by North Caribou Lake First Nation)

The inquest into the 2012 death of a North Caribou Lake First Nation woman — and its findings and recommendations — have brought some answers and hope, according to a councillor for the community.

Jurors at the inquest for Ina Matawapit heard she died in police custody after being turned away from the nursing station, where police had brought her complaining of chest pains. Jurors heard that nurses told officers to bring her back only after she had sobered up; her condition reportedly quickly deteriorated and, after being rushed back to the nursing station, she died of heart failure.

"It does bring back feelings of the loss and feelings of sadness," Coun. Grace Matawapit, who was also Ina's aunt, told CBC News. "But I think everybody came away feeling that ... something was done and something will continue to be worked on."

The four-person inquest jury, comprised of people from Kenora, Ignace, Dryden and Fort William First Nation, made 27 recommendations to a number of agencies, including Indigenous Services Canada, the OPP, the provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Corrections and North Caribou Lake First Nation.

The majority of those recommendations were made to the federally-run nursing station in the community. A release issued by North Caribou Lake, said the process "shone a light on inadequate health care" in the First Nation.

"The people that are directly [medically] involved should continue to be involved in the care of the people that do come to the clinic intoxicated," Grace Matawapit said. "They shouldn't be passed to another person."

One of the recommendations called for assurances that intoxicated, unconscious individuals are never discharged from medical care until they are stable; another stated that protocols should be developed for the assessment and management of intoxicated, unconscious patients.

Other recommendations were aimed at better orienting nurses when arriving in the community, as well as improving the hiring of Indigenous nurses and retaining medical professionals locally.

Better equipment needed

A number of other recommendations focused specifically on available health care equipment and resources in the community and how to improve them.

The inquest heard about issues at the nursing station when Ina Matawapit was rushed back, such as problems with the defibrillator and a shortage of oxygen in the facility's tank.

Jurors made recommendations for improvements there, plus better provisions for transporting medical patients in the community. Grace Matawapit said there is a van in the First Nation that can accommodate a stretcher but it's not a proper medical vehicle.

Matawapit added that changes she'd like to see would include better-equipped vehicles — including police vehicles — and more trained people in the community. 

"We talked about having maybe ... people to do the job that paramedics do," she said.

With files from The Canadian Press